In many houses around the world, today is known as the day when a fat man with a bushy, white beard and an addiction to sweets breaks into your house and leaves you nice things. And as the fact that I am DC Comics trash is known as wide and far as the North Pole, Batman and Wonder Woman swag was an easy choice for Santa to leave me.
And as I am opening what must have been my fifth or sixth present that revealed the DC Comics logo beneath the snowflake wrapping paper, I find myself asking a question that I actually don’t consider all that often: what is it about superheroes that I love so much?
Well, my sixth present does, in fact, offer me some sort of hint: I unfurl the entire Wonder Woman workout outfit, and I’m filled with excitement for the inspiration I’m going to receive from it. Because, strangely, superheroes make me feel powerful.
You’d think that it would work opposite. After all, I (unfortunately) don’t belong to a race of Amazons like Wonder Woman, and I’m not nearly as wealthy or mentally ill as Batman. I can’t dress up in a costume and fight crime, and I don’t know if I’d want to even if I could. But nonetheless, whenever I look at these characters, I’m filled with their strength – more their emotional strength than their physical strength.
Because a common theme in many superhero story lines is the theme of never giving up. Of being beaten up and knocked down and losing everything, and yet still getting back up and doing what you know is right, what you know you have to do. Even if I can’t relate to hiding my identity behind a mask so that I can go out at night and beat up the Joker, I can relate to being emotionally damaged and wanting to give up. I can relate to losing all will to continue, and thinking that it would be easier to just let it stop, just giving in to the common flow of life. And whenever I feel this way, I can just turn to my favourite superheroes to remind me that I can’t do that. I have to stand up and I have to fight for what I want and what I need – not necessarily physically, the way that they do, but most certainly mentally.
And, in a way, that leads me to the second theme in superhero story lines that I love so much: the theme of hope and optimism.
Certain superheroes turn to this theme more often than others, but it’s present in all superhero stories. In fact, it’s an almost essential part of the genre, because every single superhero (not anti-hero, necessarily) relies on the belief that there is at least one person out there who is capable of possessing ultimate power and using that only for the good of humanity.
Every single superhero looks at the world and sees a world worth saving. They see people who are, ultimately, good, even while they fight people who do the ugliest, cruellest deeds imaginable. In fact, there are many superheroes (including Batman, despite his reputation for being a more ‘dark’ superhero) who outright refuse to kill their villains, regardless of what the crimes they are guilty of, because they still hold onto the belief that these are people who are simply in need of help, who are capable of being reformed under the right circumstances.
It’s difficult, sometimes, to maintain hope and optimism in a society such as ours, filled as it is with social injustices and war and Trump, but whenever I’m starting to feel a little bit down, all that I need to do is turn to my superhero friends, and they help me to see the good in society once again.
Superhero stories reveal the good, while still refusing to conceal the bad. They explore an endless variety of social themes, from mental illness, drug abuse, physical/mental abuse, social inequalities, ect., but at the end of the day, no matter what happens in the course of the text, there is always this one great, powerful figure, this one man or woman who desires nothing more than to help. And they remind me of the good, strong people that exist in our society, the ones who truly do strive to make a change. They remind me of the sort of person I want to be – the strength that I wish to adopt, the goodness that I wish to embody. Maybe I can’t dress up in a costume and beat up criminals, but I can go out into the world and make a change. And that is all that I need to do.